North County Life Sciences: Local innovation, global impact

San Diego County is the #3 life sciences cluster in the nation, nudged out only by Boston and the Bay Area. Equipped with homegrown talent and a shared mission to change the world, North County is home to internationally-recognized life sciences companies making big strides in genomics, biopharma, medical device manufacturing, oncology, research, and most recently, the fight against COVID-19. Read ahead as we share industry-specific research presented at Innovate78’s life sciences industry focus group earlier this month.

By the numbers: Life sciences along the 78

Accounting for nearly 8,000 jobs, North County’s life sciences sector has an annual economic impact of $2.7 billion, making up 32% of San Diego County’s share when taking into account direct, indirect, and induced effects (EMSI). The sector has seen a 59% increase in employment growth from 2001. And jobs in this life-changing field pay out, with salaries for North County life sciences professionals averaging $145,800 annually (BLS, BEA, California EDD).

Companies with big impact

Driving the industry’s impact are the companies that call this place home. Life sciences giants like Genentech, Applied Membranes, Menon Biosensors, Leica Biosystems and Solecta are just a few of the many globally-recognized life sciences companies in North County. 

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, local biotechnology and research communities like these rose to address the global challenge. The 78 Corridor’s life sciences firms collaborated on rapid testing solutions, new treatments and other scientific efforts aimed at bringing a vaccine and drug treatments to the global market. Carlsbad’s Thermo Fisher Scientific shipped the first COVID-19 tests in March 2020 and was recently granted emergency use authorization by the FDA for two COVID-19 assays designed to compensate for mutations and emerging COVID-19 variants. Quidel was quick to follow its neighbor’s suit and was granted emergency-use authorization for the first-ever COVID-19 antigen test and its over-the-counter, at-home test in May 2020. Topping off a series of first-evers for North County (and the world), the FDA also approved the first-ever COVID-19 drug by Gilead Sciences, which has major operations in Oceanside, in October 2020. 

Alongside these industry titans are newcomers like Cue Health, that develop rapid-result COVID-19 tests used by the NBA, Google and the U.S. military and have recently raised $200 million in IPO. The diagnostics company is also hiring for over 500 roles in engineering, research and business at its Vista location. 

Though the industry is experiencing tremendous growth, local life sciences firms have more open jobs than there are job seekers to fill them

North County’s edu institutions rise to the challenge

Luckily for them, and us, North County is home to three universities, two community colleges, and a variety of non-traditional training and certificate programs that from 2018-2019 alone produced over 13,600 degree completions (EMSI). 

The institutions rising to meet the life sciences talent demand along the Corridor include Cal State San Marcos, MiraCosta College, Palomar College, University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences and Pima Medical Institute, among others. Click here to learn more about North County’s higher education institutions. 

Armed with a diverse talent pool and companies driving life-changing innovation, North County is positioned to continue thriving in the life sciences space. 

Are you a job seeker looking to explore jobs in the life sciences? Check out our weekly job board. Or, are you an employer, startup or entrepreneur? Connect with your City’s economic development leaders to find relevant and city-specific resources to help you flourish: 

Tess Sangster

Economic Development Director, San Marcos

760-744-1050, ext. 3120

Kevin Ham

Economic Development Director, Vista

Matt Sanford

Matt Sanford

Economic Development Manager, Carlsbad

Jennifer Schoeneck

Jennifer Schoeneck

Deputy Director of Economic Development, Escondido


Michelle Geller

Michelle Geller

Economic Development Manager, Oceanside


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